Are you covered if your pet cat causes a CATastrophe to your property? I was posed this question after being referred to an article on celebrity Frankie Muniz who found his home “flooded with 3 feet of water because his cat had accidentally turned on the faucet while he was away at his uncle’s funeral.” That is a strange loss.

The answer depends on the wording of insurance policy. My first thoughts involved the typical exclusions for “domestic animals” and some types of “water loss.” The direct damage could be viewed as water accidentally discharging or overflowing or some may view the loss as simply being caused by pet cat.

Bill Wilson suggests a disciplined structure to such a coverage analysis in When Words Collide: Resolving Insurance Coverage and Claims Disputes. This is Wilson’s basic ten step method of insurance interpretation:

Policy Interpretation Doctrines

1. Insurance is NOT a commodity.

2. RTFP!

3. Don’t accept a claim denial as gospel.

4. The purpose of insurance is to insure.

5. All parties have a duty of utmost good faith.

6. Most insurance policies are contracts of adhesion, so insuring agreements are interpreted broadly, exclusions narrowly, and ambiguities in favor of insureds.

7. The burden of proof in determining coverage rests with both parties in the insurance contract.

8. Exclusions must be clear and conspicuous.

9. The duty to defend is broader than the duty to indemnify.

10. Folklore is not fact.

Following Wilson’s suggestion and as part of this nerdy exercise, I read an HO 00 03 10 00 ISO Homeowners form from end to end. There was an exclusion that I was worried about for damage caused by pets owned by the policyholder, but then an “ensuing loss” which seems pretty close to on-point which provides coverage.

The exclusion is for damage caused by “animals owned or kept by an ‘insured’.” The exception to this exclusion is:

Unless the loss is otherwise excluded, we cover loss to property covered under Coverage A or B resulting from an accidental discharge or overflow of water or … from within a….Plumbing…or household appliance on the “residence premises.1

There also seems to be a coverage under the personal property section of the policy which provides for discharge or overflow of water as a named peril:

This peril means accidental discharge or overflow of water or steam from within a plumbing…from within a household appliance.

However, there is a general exclusion for water damage which also provides:

3. Water Damage

“Water Damage means:

….

b. Water or water-borne material which backs up through sewers or drains or which overflows or is discharged from a sump, sump pump or related equipment; or

….

caused by or resulting from human or animal forces…..

However, that definition does not seem to fit what happened to the instant cat loss.

Virtually all the cases on this topic discuss pets eating or destroying property and thereby directly causing the loss with no intervening cause. Other cases spent a great deal of discussion trying to determine whether the animal was a domestic pet. For instance, FC&S had this discussion of similar language and the intent of the wording:

Loss caused by animals owned or kept by an insured is excluded. In other words, if a guest’s disobedient dog digs up the insured’s carpeting, the loss is covered since the animal is not “owned or kept” by the insured. The change in policy language fulfills the original intent of the exclusion, i.e., to exclude pet damage an insured’s poorly trained animals cause over time.

Since this was the intent of the exclusion from its introduction, invasion of a home and consequent sudden and accidental damage by someone else’s animal is outside the spirit of the exclusion even under the previous policy language (which excluded coverage for loss caused by domestic animals). At least one dictionary definition of “domestic” supports the argument for coverage under the earlier language, defining the term as “of or relating to the household or family” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary). However, some insurers chose to apply the domestic animals exclusion to any kind of damage by any animal meeting the broad description of domesticated animal and did not limit it to animals of the insured’s own household.

So, my interpretation from just reading the policy, looking at some cases, and reading the grants of coverage broadly and exclusions narrowly, is that there could be coverage for Frankie Munoz’ catastrophe if the policy form is as broad as the one I referenced.

On the other hand, despite all the advertisements implying bundles of coverage by Allstate’s Mayhem, if you were to Google search the issue, Allstate says:

Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Pet Damage?

You came home to discover that Rover missed you so much he dug a hole in the carpet. And for good measure, he chewed through the drywall in the hallway. Now what? Such a situation may leave you wondering whether homeowners insurance covers pet damage to your house.

Personal property coverage.

While the personal property coverage in a homeowners insurance policy may help protect your belongings against certain risks, there is generally no coverage for personal property, such as a television or furniture, if it’s damaged by your own pet. So if Fluffy shreds your curtains during one of her midnight romps or Max rips through the couch, you likely won’t be able to file a claim for pet damage with your insurance company.

Dwelling and other structures coverage.

Similarly, most homeowners insurance policies exclude coverage for damage caused by a pet or domestic animal (as well as insects and rodents) to structures on your property, such as your house or fence. Should your dog chew through a wall or your mischievous goat break the door to your barn, your homeowners insurance is not likely to cover the cost of repairs.

Hopefully, Frankie Munoz was not influenced by advertisements to buy Allstate insurance. Advertisements usually lead to buying of cheap insurance based on price with many limitations of coverage. From my perspective, I suggest that policyholders have discussions with insurance agents that sell quality insurance because how expensive is cheap insurance that does not pay?

Thought For The Day

“Those who’ll play with cats must expect to be scratched.”
—Miguel de Cervantes
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1 FN. see page 9 and 10 of the attached ISO form.

  • Stephen Sarasohn

    I had a claim where the insured’s dog turned on the range which started a fire. Coverage was afforded.

    • An ensuing fire is almost always covered regardless of the initial cause, unless the owner taught the old dog a new and naughty trick about how to set fires.

    • Jim Johnson

      Had the dog damaged the knob while turning on the range, technically the damaged knob would not be covered!

      • Stephen Sarasohn

        Correct

  • Tim Dodge

    I know someone who had an Allstate homeowners policy. Her cat chewed a hole in the line that connected a toilet to the water supply, resulting in a flooded first floor. The carrier covered the loss.

    • Tim–maybe I am being too harsh on Allstate! Thanks for sharing that finding of coverage.